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Church Sound: A Great Mix Comes From Humble Beginnings

While seemingly insignificant, the organization of your mixers input channels can have a big impact on your productivity as an engineer.

By Jeremy Carter September 13, 2012

Image: Curt Taipale’s Church Sound Boot Camp
This article is provided by Jeremy Carter.


There are lots of theories on channel layout.

Some mixing console operators prefer vocals first, followed by the band. Some use the opposite scenario, with the band first and then vocals.

And some don’t give much thought to the process, just plugging things in order as they come from the stage (Stage Pocket 1, 2, then 3, etc.) regardless of what instrument is represented on that line.

Over the years, I have advised my clients and friends to generally adopt the “Pyramid Mix” channel order.

For those of you not familar with the Pyramid Mixing technique, a diagram can be found below which illustrates the concept.

So how do you build a pyramid? You start with the bottom layer and work your way up. I do modify it slightly, in the sense that I want to keep like instruments together (guitars, keys, drums, etc.).

Also, in most settings I’ve worked with in the last several years, guitars are dominant with keys being primarily ambience (organs, pads, etc.) – so the pyramid is slightly modified there.

It’s also helpful if you lay out the channel order with regard to your Groups. The typical large format board has 8 subgroups, so I take that into consideration as well.

How to build a mix. Source: Curt Taipale’s Church Sound Boot Camp.

Here is the general layout I recommend to most clients:

    01 – Bass Gtr
    02 – Kick Drum
    03 – Snare Drum
    04 – Tom 1
    05 – Tom 2
    06 – Tom 3
    07 – Hi Hat
    08 – Crash (OHL)
    09 – Ride (OHR)
    10 – Percussion 1
    11 – Percussion 2
    12 –
    13 – EG 1
    14 – EG2
    15 – AG 1
    16 – AG 2
    17 –
    18 – Piano L
    19 – Piano R
    20 – Synth L
    21 – Synth R
    22 – Track
    23 – Click
    24 –
    25 – Lead Vox (or Worship Leader)
    26 – BGV 1
    27 – BGV 2
    28 – BGV 3
    29 – BGV 4
    30 –
    31 – Anouncement Mic
    32 – Pastor Mic

Notice there are some blank channels in between the groupings.

This is for that last-minute request that always seems to come along like: “Bob is going to be using 2 amps today”, or “I fogot to tell you, we’ll need 3 acoustic channels this week”, or “We’re using the Djembe today so we need 3 percussion mics.”

Of course, this order can be scaled up or down depending your exact situation, but now let’s look at the group situation. Here’s a look at the typical 8-group layout:

    Group 1 – Bass/Kick
    Group 2 – Drums (all drums/percussion except Kick)
    Group 3 – Electric Gtrs
    Group 4 – Acoustic Gtrs
    Group 5 – Keys
    Group 6 – Misc (could be brass, choir, lavs, whatever)
    Group 7 – Lead Vox
    Group 8 – BGVs

You may have to make some modifications if you are running true stereo. Group 1-2 may be Stereo Drums. Group 5-6 may be Stereo Keys, etc.

If you only have 4 groups, it might look something like this:

    Group 1 – Drums/Bass
    Group 2 – Gtrs
    Group 3 – Keys
    Group 4 – Vocals

I realize this specific layout may not work for everyone, but it has proven to work in many situations I’ve been involved with over the last several years. Whatever layout you choose – it should make sense and should allow you to mix properly without having to go hunt for something.

Jeremy Carter is a veteran of the pro audio industry with extensive experience designing and operating church audio, video, and lighting systems. More information about Jeremy and his tutorial series Sound Sessions can be found on his website.


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chris says

Great article.  I use the pyramid method myself.  The only except I’ve found to this is when I’m at a venue with a singer who has a super soft voice (can only do so much with the gain).  In that case, I start vocal volume first and then layer under that.

Jeremy Carter says

When I teach this info in a classroom setting, I often begin by telling folks that my training makes at least 3 assumptions:
1) This is for a total reinforcement style of mixing where the audience depends on hearing each instrument out of the main House mix. It is the opposite of old-school “P.A. style” where huge guitar amps are required to cover the venue and the drum kit is just a kick and an overhead, for example.
2) This is for close mic’ing technique.
3) This is for contemporary rock/pop/electronic instrument genres. Orchestral, classic jazz, operatic, and other genres may require a different approach entirely.

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